At first blush, the news of arbitrator Richard Bloch's decision to uphold the NHL's rejection of Ilya Kovalchuk's record 17-year, $102-million deal with the Devils had only a tangential impact on the Bruins.
The ruling could affect how the Bruins proceed with negotiations with Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron and Boston could benefit if Kovalchuk, now a free agent again, ends up signing outside the Eastern Conference instead of reworking a deal with New Jersey.
But closer inspection of Bloch's decision reveals there could be a far more direct impact on the Bruins from this ruling. James Mirtle of the Toronto Globe and Mail reported that the seven-year, $28.05-million extension that Marc Savard signed last December could be ruled invalid as well.
In the footnotes of Bloch's decision (which can be read courtesy of Eric Macramalla of Team 1200) Bloch notes: "It is true, as the Association observes, that the NHL has registered contracts with structures similar to the Kovalchuk SPC [standard player contract]. … Of these, four such agreements, with players Chris Pronger, Marc Savard, Roberto Luongo and Marian Hossa reflect provisions that are relatively more dramatic than the others. Each of these players will be 40 or over at the end of the contract term and each contract includes dramatic divebacks."
Bloch earlier defined those contract divebacks as "salary reductions that extend over the 'tails' of the Agreement."
The deal for Savard, who is scheduled to make $25.5 million over the first four years of the extension, followed by just $2.55 million in the final three years, would certainly qualify as a diveback.
While the league has already approved the Savard, Pronger, Luongo and Hossa deals, Bloch leaves open the possibility of them still be rejected.
"Several responses are in order: First, while the contracts have, in fact, been registered, their structure has not escaped League notice: those SPCs are being investigated currently with at least the possibility of a subsequent withdrawal of the registration," read the decision.
Hossa's 12-year, $63.3-million deal began last year, which would make it more complicated to nullify that contract, but the extensions for Savard, Luongo (12 years, $64 million) and Pronger (seven years, $34.45 million) don't begin until this year, leaving them more vulnerable to further investigation and action.
It's still unlikely that the league will go after contracts they've already approved. Instead, the Kovalchuk ruling is more likely to be used to block further attempts to circumvent the cap with heavily front-loaded deals with "divebacks" to lower the cap hit.
But if the league were to withdraw registration of these deals, it would provide an unexpected solution to Boston's cap woes with Savard's $4.007-million hit off the books. However, losing a player of Savard's caliber to free agency with no compensation isn't quite as appealing as trading him for other assets or, better yet, retaining the club's best offensive player at a reasonable cap hit.
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